Monday, December 04, 2006

Swallowing Hard At The San Jose Mercury-News

A New Contract Yes, Happiness In The Newsroom, No
The Newspaper Guild at The San Jose Mercury-News reached a deal with owner William "Lean Dean" Singleton.
The best you can say about it is, it could have been worse. Just ask reporters at The San Francisco Chronicle, who agreed to a deal that was just that.
Let's take a look at the more salient details, posted on Romenesko, to see how that once-proud Knight Ridder flagship fared.
--A two-year deal in which the number of Guild layoffs is reduced from 69 to 27.51 (don't ask how they came up with .51) and that the paper has guaranteed there will be no layoffs until at least June 30.
Which means come July 1, all bets are off, except for the one that staff will likely be further trimmed, if circulation and advertising patterns continue as expected. The Guild knows that, so does the Merc. If anything, it gives vulnerable reporters and editors time to look elsewhere before they're tapped on the shoulder.
--A $1,000 signing bonus to ease the pain of now ponying up about 20 percent of the cost of health insurance. That will more than offset the average 2 percent annual pay increases during the contract. Sure, it sucks, but the Merc newsroom is now among the many feeling this pinch.
--Ditto for the frozen pension plan, which will now be replaced by a 401K, with a 50 percent match up to a six-percent employee contribution.
--Victories, if you want to call them that, was the dropping of management's insistence of eliminating the "evergreen clause," which keeps the terms of an expired contract in place while negotiations continue; no 40-hour workweek and no "management rights clause." But those are things that employers throw into the soup during negotiations, with little or no expectation that they become bargaining chips. That's labor relations biz.
Could the Guild have done better? Armchair quarterbacks might say yes, but then again this is a sickly industry that shows no signs of getting better.
The real losers might be the Guild members over at the Philadelphia newspapers, which are still trying to iron out a deal on wages, benefits and pensions after settling on non-economic issues. The union had been threatening a strike but backed off amid signs of progress. But management may be emboldened by what happened at the Merc, the Inquirer's and Daily News' former corporate sibling.
The Guild in Philly may talk a good game, but ultimately they may have no choice but to swallow hard and accept a deal that's not to their liking, just like the reporters at the Merc will likely do.

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